The tour started on Saturday morning and I caught the bus to the airport (that was the pickup location) with no issues this time. Because there really wasn't any sort of orientation, or introductions made, it felt a bit odd to just get on a bus with 15 other people. Our guide's name is Michael, but he goes by Telli (which is a nickname based off his last name). Not long into the day we found out that this was only his second week of tour guiding by himself; certainly not my cup of tea, but he was a decent guy with a good sense of humour... I sat next to a young British guy named Parry who had already done the Abel Tasman portion of the trip the week before. There were 2 others on the bus who had done it with him, but apparently the rest of us were all new. Our main objective for the day was to get to Franz Josef, which is about 237 miles, so we spent most of the day on the bus. The first "tourist" stop for the day was in the Canterbury Plains to see the rocks at Castle Hill. "The hill was so named because of the imposing array of limestone boulders in the area reminiscent of an old, run-down stone castle". For those movie buffs, the area is also famously known for a battle scene in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". It had been overcast most of the morning, but shortly after we arrived the sun came out to grace the huge limestone boulders with its beams. Even see some blue sky was spotted!!
We then drove through Arthurs Pass, the views are quite stunning with lovely mountains and streams everywhere you turn. At one of the lookouts we spotted our first Kea, "...an unusual parrot. It is the only truly alpine parrot in the world, and gained early notoriety among settler farmers for attacks on their sheep. Innately curious, kea are attracted to people wherever they enter its mountain domain..." They're infamous for destroying cars if left parked for too long, they apparently like rubber. For more info on the bird visit NZ Birds, and this link to watch them in action.
Telli had originally told us we would arrive in Hokitika around 1:30pm for our lunch stop, but it became apparent that being his first time on this route, his timing was a bit off. Hungry, but none the worse for wear, we arrived just after 3pm. Unfortunately, most of the cafe's close at 3pm since it's winter so our choices were quite limited. Undaunted, I found a pie shop and tried my first venison meat pie. It was quite good and I was informed that they eat quite a bit of venison in New Zealand (deer are not native, mind you). New Zealand only has 2 native mammals, and both are bats. We also did a quick tour of a jade carving shop after our lunch. The jade (nephrite jade, a.k.a. pounamu or greenstone) in New Zealand is mostly sourced from the South Island, near Hokitika. The carvings they do are truly amazing works; it is said that you cannot buy jade for yourself, but only as a gift for another. I took that as a hint to not spend my money on any more jewelry for myself :)
We eventually arrived in Franz Josef for the night and I finally learned a few more names and back stories when we all went out to King Tiger for dinner. There's actually another American girl (Casey) on the tour which is unusual, I don't meet many Americans when I travel; and guess where she's from? Philadelphia! The British people found it rather amusing that her and I were from the same state and yet had different accents (well, according to them we did; I thought we sounded the same). To be fair, England is slightly larger than PA so in terms of size and quantity of accents they definitely beat us by a mile I'd say (yes, that's my professional opinion).